It might be a contrary way to celebrate Christmas, but this year’s holiday offering from San Jose Stage, Reckless, is a dark, lyrical comedy by Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, The Light in the Piazza). Frequently revised and revived since its original 1983 premiere, Reckless is a fairy tale for adults—a whimsical ride through self-realization, the random senselessness of life and some of the worst Christmas disasters imaginable.
Halsey Varady plays the heroine, Rachel, a chipper suburban mom bubbling over with seasonal euphoria until her husband, Tom (Will Springhorn, Jr.), informs her that he has put a contract out on her. Fleeing the house in her pajamas and hitching a ride out of town with a stranger named Lloyd (Michael Navarra), Rachel says that she’s always wanted to do something reckless like this. It all seems like a dream, and who knows? Perhaps it is.
Things only get weirder from there, as Rachel moves in with Lloyd and his deaf, paraplegic wife, Pooty (Katie O’Bryon). Still in her pajamas, Rachel takes a job at “Hands Across the Sea,” a nonprofit that helps disabled people. She also appears on a television game show, witnesses several murders and visits an array of ridiculous psychiatrists (all played amusingly by Dena Martinez). Critics have called this dreamlike adventure “picaresque,” and there is something to that: for all its strangeness, it has the unmistakable air of everyday life.
Varaday’s Rachel is childlike and na•ve, a sort of Goldilocks or Red Riding Hood confronting the big bad world, sympathetic even when her flightiness verges on irritating. With Navarra and O’Bryon as her adopted family, there is a splendid sense of mystery concealed beneath their aw-shucks Americanisms. Rounding out the cast are Judith Miller, who is almost animalistic as a surly bookkeeper at Hands Across the Sea, and Jay Steele, equally ringmasterlike playing Rachel’s boss at the nonprofit and a pair of television hosts.
Furniture and other set pieces are whisked on and offstage, often with actors still clinging to them, illustrating the characters’ lack of control over their lives. In Reckless, life is a perpetual nightmare that you can’t wake up from. The play’s grotesque humor isn’t for everyone (a few of the funniest lines seemed to be lost on the opening-night audience), but it satisfies the urge for something edgy during the season of supposed good will.